Friday, 23 October 2020

Showcase Meeting Friday 23rd October 2020: West the Right Approach in Feature Race

We started off yesterday’s blog in great form, firing in 9/1 winner Does He Know and very nearly followed with a 10/1 scorer too – here’s to more of the same!

Another seven races are scheduled for day 2 of the Showcase Meeting at Cheltenham and it’s been terrific to see action back at the home of jumps racing, with the feature handicap chase looking like throwing up some real value for us in particular.

2.05 (Conditions Hurdle – Class 2) – BOTOX HAS

We begin with a four-year-olds-only race, one in which the smallish field has led to the jolly looking very short in the betting.

The horse in question, Allmankind, is of course solid enough for the Skelton operation and while his third in the Triumph Hurdle round here at the Festival naturally reads well, it also truly shows us what his ability is.

He can improve still, but in the shape of Botox Has there is one horse in this line-up who perhaps has even more progression in him.

Gary Moore’s charge likes this track having won here, but his key piece of form is from last winter when he was actually second to Allmankind in the Triumph Hurdle Trial.

He didn’t take much of a beating that day, has a 4lb weight turnaround now and looks very good value to turn the table for a yard that wouldn’t come here were he not capable of beating his old rival. Nordano is next on the list.

2.40 (Novices’ Chase – Class 2) – NOT THAT FUISSE

The one for money here has been Pileon, and while he comes from a powerful yard in the shape of Philip Hobbs’ he just doesn’t have the form in our book to justify favouritism.

Challenging him at the top of the market has been Southfield Stone who looks a little more solid, but again under-priced and so a chance has to be taken on one we know has ability and is race fit and that is Dan Skelton’s Not That Fuisse.

The seven-year-old, just six runs into his chasing career and capable of plenty more yet, reached a new level when winning at Perth last time but that was merely a pipe-opener.  He has run second around here to Al Dancer in the past and can make his price look a little silly.

The only other horse in the line-up, Coole Cody, is no mug either so consider that in what will be a difficult placepot market.

3.15 (Handicap Hurdle – Pertemps Hurdle Series Qualifier – Class 2) – NEVILLE’S CROSS

Other than the feature, this could be considered the most competitive race of the day with 18 going to post for the three-mile hurdling cavalry charge.

Naturally there are plenty in contention, though market leaders Honest Vic and I’d Better Go Now seem overestimated a little to us.

With the most solid profile and representing just about fair odds is Tom Lacey’s hat-trick seeker Neville’s Cross and he is given the vote. Robbie Power takes the ride and that is a big positive, with the five-year-old match-fit improver likely to love conditions round here.

Philip Hobbs runs Flinck in this and too has a very strong place chance, while Champagne Court of Jeremy Scott’s yard is very definitely too big in the market overnight at around 14/1 and must be taken seriously too.

3.50 (Handicap Chase – Class 2) – WEST APPROACH

Even in this strangest of times there is a decent pot on offer here for the 3m1f main event, with £30,000 on offer to the winner.

That pot could be going the way of the Colin Tizzard yard we reckon, with their ten-year-old West Approach having plenty in his favour here upon looking carefully at his profile.

He was second in this race last year and has gone on to run very well around the track on other occasions. He is now 7lbs higher in the handicap than he was twelve months ago, but he has been even higher in the weights and we think the improvement he has shown since being runner-up to The Conditional outweighs that 7lbs.

The likely favourite is the hard to assess Manofthemountain who has been winning easily at a lower level, while Sensulano should also be given more than just a glance.

Established horses such as Cogry and Frodon are in the mix here, but they simply don’t look well handicapped now or at least not for their respective seasonal debut’s anyway and are overlooked this time.

4.25 (Novices’ Hurdle – Class 2) – MINELLA ENCORE

While of the four with the biggest chance the selection has a couple of years on his rivals, he remains capable of improvement under the tutelage of Dr Richard Newland and so at small stakes the money goes the way of Minella Encore.

Overnight favourite Streets Of Doyen is next on the list while the Macon Lugnatic also gets a shout.

5.00 (Amateur Jockeys’ Handicap Chase – Class 3) – JEN’S BOY

This is a wide-open event for amateur jockeys, so once more we would not recommend going in too heavily at all.

It’s hard to accurately judge given all the race conditions what we believe each horse can achieve versus their handicap mark at this stage of the season, so the smart play is to stick with likely market leader Jen’s Boy who is ridden by the best available jockey in this scenario, Sam Waley-Cohen.

5.35 (Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race – Class 2) – I AM MAXIMUS

We close with a bumper and it goes without saying that if there is a big gamble on any of these 15 prospects we’d have to sit up and take notice, but at the overnight stage we reckon it might pay at decent odds to side with debutant I Am Maximus.

The combo of Nicky Henderson and Nico De Boinville is a very strong one and the vibes are good about this son of Derby winner Authorized, so a chance can be taken for small money.

Thursday, 22 October 2020

Showcase Meeting Friday 23rd October: Moore Team to Land Friday Showcase Feature

Friday afternoon means a welcome return to the home of the jumps game as Cheltenham hosts the Showcase meeting. We’re set fair for a fantastically competitive two days of racing, even featuring very early Festival clues no doubt.

As always, we have opinions and a firm selection for every race on the card beginning with the new season opener – the 2m5f novices’ hurdle on the New Course.

1.50 (Novices’ Hurdle – Class 2) – DOES HE KNOW

A small but select field of seven here, one in which we are entitled to simply go for value in the shape of Kim Bailey’s Does He Know.

In our minds, taking into account likely improvement at the relative stages of their fledgling careers, Does He Know looks capable of running to a very similar standard as likely favourite Ask For Glory of Paul Nicholls’.

Given that one could be 6/4 and the other could be closer to 5/1, backing Does He Know is a no-brainer and we must also consider that the five-year-old is match-fit after a very easy win on fast ground recently at Ludlow.

He should stay on nicely around here and may yet take care of the favourite under David Bass, Midnight River being next on the list for the Dan Skelton yard.

2.25 (Novices’ Chase – Class 2) – SOLDIER OF LOVE

Given reputation as well as performance, it is wholly understandable that the favourite comes from the raiding yard of Gordon Elliott in the shape of Galvin.

On a four-timer, race fit and from a top yard, the six-year-old is high on the list but in truth he is no higher than fellow Irish entrant Doctor Duffy.

Charles Byrnes likely has the seven-year-old still in fine shape despite having been on the go for a while and having taken a spill last time, but both of these fine types may have it all to do to hold of our selection, Soldier Of Love.

Paul Nicholls’ gelding is on a five-timer, in fact but for an unlucky fall it could have been a six-timer, and we feel there is no way that against the opposition the son of Yeats has faced that he has had to pull out his best yet.

Conditions should be fine for Harry Cobden’s mount here, so he is great value at second-favourite to land the spoils. Mossy Fen and Ask Dillon can also be considered for place money.

3.00 (Handicap Hurdle – Class 3) – HIJACK

With any luck, Nicky Henderson’s young charge will be allowed to go off at near double-figure odds for this 20-runner, 2m5f handicap hurdle. If he is, then he could represent great value in what is a very close, competitive event.

With so many in with a chance on paper, Imperial Elysian, Hometown Boy, Up The Straight, Weather Front and Captain Tom Cat all being on that particular list, stakes would have to be kept to a minimum but this Hijack has the most in his favour including the benefit of a recent run.

Under today’s jockey Nico De Boinville he has an excellent record, one of constant improvement, and so a new career best should be on the cards here.

3.35 (Handicap Chase – Class 2) – BEAT THE JUDGE

The feature race at £30,000 to the winner even in these trying times, this two-mile handicap chase looks a lot more competitive than it’s 13-runner field would suggest but once again we are backing the combination of improvement and value.

While at first glance likely favourite On The Slopes should be the one to be on, he’s done his best work at Kempton so far and wasn’t quite as impressive when last seen at Cheltenham.

With that in mind, it could be worth chancing the well-priced Gary Moore runner who was improving in lumps over the summer and has now had a similar break to the jolly.

It’s possible he can put in a new career best now, one that would make him very well handicapped, so he is preferred to On The Slopes with Scardura, Katpoli and Rouge Vif also on the shortlist.

4.10 (Maiden Hurdle – Class 3) – PIPESMOKER

Unless something surprises us, only three of these 8 should realistically hold a winning chance with Nicky Henderson and Nico De Boinville’s Pipesmoker readily preferred to main rivals Champagnesuperover and Faivoir.

The selection hasn’t won a race yet, but will appreciate this drop to two miles and can improve on what he’s shown when placed at Cheltenham and Ascot, though a repeat of those novice hurdle performances would be enough to win this anyway.

4.45 (Novices’ Chase – Class 2) – GETAWAY TRUMP

The all-conquering Nicky Henderson has the odds-on favourite here in the shape of Fusil Raffles, but frankly the price is ridiculous given that he is rated just 3lbs higher than Getaway Trump, carries the same weight and despite being young and expected to improve has not shown too much of a liking for Cheltenham.

The more experience Paul Nicholls runner however has indeed done well here and was nice and fluent when having a pipe-opener at Warwick recently.

He should be ready to truly show his best in this contest under Harry Cobden and should take it before moving into graded company before his next outing here in the winter.

Sir Valentine and Return Ticket are some way behind in completing the four-runner field, with only mistakes by the big two possibly being enough for one of them to win.

5.15 (Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle – Class 3) – ASHINGTON

Last year’s winner Benny Bridge, tipped on this column to good effect of course, is bound to be popular given that he won so easily that day and has had just the one run since.

If he is back to his best, in fact has improved which is very possible, then he will indeed be tough to beat but there are some ifs and buts about him and so he doesn’t represent great value.

John Quinn’s Ashington looks a good value selection this time around however given his upward trajectory over hurdles and he is given the nod in the lucky last.

Friday, 9 October 2020

Changes at the Cheltenham Festival as Novices’ Handicap Chase is Axed

It’s all change again at the Cheltenham Festival after it was announced that a new Mares’ Chase will replace the Listed Novices’ Handicap Chase in March.

The BHA had already stated back in August 2019 that a mares’ chase of one description or another would be added to the programme from 2021, much to the chagrin of many owners, trainers and punters. All that was to be decided was which race would be axed.

The event to be discontinued was up for debate with all of the game’s stakeholders apparently having their opinion, even if most of them were put forward via social media, but now we have confirmation that it will indeed be the Listed Novices’ Handicap Chase, only established in 2005 when the Festival was expanded to four days.

The race, a 2½-mile event, had been run on the opening day and while it has been axed from the Festival it is important to note that it hasn’t been lost to the calendar altogether. Now, the same race will be added to Sandown’s Imperial Cup meeting a few days before the Festival gets underway, a move that seems to have placated most people.

The new race will be staged at Grade Two level and while it will have big-name sponsorship from the outset, it will be registered officially as the Liberthine Mares’ Chase.

The change-up also means it is a good time to fiddle with the order of things at the Festival once again. The new Mares’ Chase will be run on Friday, Gold Cup day, forcing the Grand Annual to move to the Wednesday. In turn, this means moving the Juvenile Handicap Hurdle to Tuesday, the opening day, effectively replacing the discarded race.

Naturally for all those involved, deciding on which race to replace was never an easy decision. Feedback was sought and received from many within the game and it was essentially decided that there were enough novice chase races at the Festival, while a balance also needed to be kept between hurdles and steeplechases.

The real uptick this will lead to comes not just from the fact that a Listed race is being replaced by a Grade Two, but also because there are mares involved.

Unlike on the flat, not many National Hunt horses have a big value when they are finished their racing career, however a good race mare can be worth plenty and winning a Grade 2 at the Cheltenham Festival can significantly increase their desirability.

It goes without saying that this process has not been totally plain sailing, with some for and some against the decision within the sport.

Crack trainers Paul Nicholls, Nicky Henderson and Willie Mullins have all spoken out favourably about the decision, especially in terms of the logic behind it, while Mick Channon was one of the more disapproving voices in the jumps training ranks.

As it turns out, the Martin Pipe Conditional Hurdle, the National Hunt Chase, the Kim Muir and the Juvenile Handicap Hurdle were the other races considered for removal from the Festival schedule.

As was the case with the switch to four days in 2005, it seems those in charge cannot please everyone. Back in March, fans of the sport could not agree on whether the Festival should have even gone ahead given the coronavirus situation and now we have a whole new, if thankfully less important, argument on our hands.